The Captain Made The Difference

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND l Captains have been known to downplay their contributions to team events. If you believe that, then pigs can fly and the moon is made of green cheese.
Just as Colin Montgomerie’s attention to minute detail may have been the factor that got Europe over the line in the Ryder Cup last autumn so, arguably, it was Nigel Edwards’s captaincy that did likewise for GB&I in the Walker Cup.
Jim Holtgrieve, 63, looked what he was, an older man with a distinguished golfing history who had been given the captaincy of the U.S. team as a reward by the USGA. Holtgrieve admitted that he had not read the Conditions of the Competition. He also stands charged of ignoring the foursomes partnership of Peter Uihlein and Nathan Smith, which had won both matches at Merion in 2009. Last week Uihlein was paired with Harris English and lost both foursomes matches.
Edwards, 43, a small man with big self-belief and ambition, was made captain because he deserved it after playing in the winning Great Britain and Ireland sides of 2001 and 2003 as well as the losing sides of 2005 and 2007. Although he had stopped playing top-class amateur golf he was still very much in touch with current players. Edwards repaid the selectors’ faith in him. He was Captain Magnificent.
Edwards’ life has been slightly against the odds. He grew up in a small village in south Wales, and started golf by hitting a ball around a field with a half-broken club. At 13, he and his parents joined a local golf club to begin golf together and were told off the first time they played for using one bag and set of clubs between the three of them.
Edwards instilled self-belief into his team at Royal Aberdeen. He refused to consider the Americans favourites, despite six of them ranked in the top 10 in the world. His attention to detail in the preparation was exemplary. He might not have gone so far as Montgomerie who, at the eleventh hour, had bigger beds installed for his players, but he made sure that his men were as well prepared as they could possibly have been.
Edwards prowled Royal Aberdeen ceaselessly, a radio in one ear, a look of complete concentration on his face. He had the same routine for each player when they arrived on the first tee. He would remove his cap, extend his right hand and give them a quiet word of encouragement. He knew when to speak and when to keep quiet. When he addressed his players at lunchtime on Sunday, he knew that though GB&I led 10½-5½ that the U.S. would be highly motivated for the 10 afternoon singles.
“It’s not over yet, boys,” he said in his soft voice, his eyes burning with Welsh fervour. “The Americans are great players. They have a lot of passion. They will come back at us.”
Edwards was a combination of the control freak that was Montgomerie at Celtic Manor and the tactician that was Peter McEvoy, the GB&I captain in the Walker Cup at Nairn in 1999 and Sea Island in 2001. He avoided the mistakes that Nick Faldo made in the Ryder Cup at Valhalla, paying close attention to the length as well as the content of the speeches he had to make. And as a former, recent competitor, he knew what his men went through.
“It’s his passion for the Walker Cup that stands out,” Jack Senior, a team member, said. “He really cares about it.”
When Stiggy Hodgson was in tears at losing to Peter Uihlein in Sunday’s singles, partly after a freak bounce sent his ball into a gorse bush on the 17th, Edwards consoled him by putting a comforting arm around him and walking some distance with his player talking encouragingly all the time.
It was to Edwards’ advantage, and Holtgrieve’s disadvantage, that the weather was so foul, consisting of strong wind interrupted by occasional rain squalls. Holtgrieve got into the shower in his waterproofs to make sure they did not leak as the equipment had for the U.S. team at the Ryder Cup but he could not simulate in the U.S. the kind of strong wind that blew for most of the two-day competition.
It had been like this when the GB&I squad held a training week-end at Royal Aberdeen in May and there has been a lot of bad weather in Britain and Ireland during the summer, too, so members of the home team were used to dealing with it. Furthermore, they were better at putting in strong winds, less often sending approach putts yards past the hole. How else to explain Patrick Cantlay, ranked first in the world, and Chris Williams three-putting the first three greens on Sunday morning’s foursomes when the wind was gusting at 25 mph?
Edwards could not do anything about the weather. It was his good luck that it went his way. But he could and did do what was necessary about almost everything else. He was Captain Magnificent, remember.


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